“I knew he would respond quickly!” Alainna said happily, rushing back with Solea to Solea’s room. “See? It was a good idea for us to send him a letter!” Alainna pushed open Solea’s door and blinked in surprise at the Black Swan. “You didn’t tell me that you had a visitor!” Then she gave a quick curtsy. “Uclepidies, I presume?”
Archondid bowed back. “Hail Lady! I am your son, Archondid,” he said politely. Then, with curiosity, he said, “Did you really think I looked like Uclepidies?”
Alainna shot Solea a look. “Well, Solea told me that Uclepidies sent a letter. She didn’t mention you.”
“Yes, but Uclepidies looks… horrifying.”
Alainna shrugged. “No offense, but you two look the same to me. You both look like Black Swans.”
“Really? You can’t tell the difference?” He turned to Solea. “And you? Can you tell the difference between us?”
“You can talk,” Solea offered, feeling silly.
“But if I didn’t talk, would you be able to distinguish me from your father?”
Solea’s face grew red.
“Never mind that now!” Alainna dismissed. “It was an honest mistake. Anyway, Solea said that I had a letter from Uclepidies.”
Archondid nodded politely and grabbed a bulky envelope that had been buried deep within his downy feathers. Then he pushed the envelope towards Alainna with his beak. “For you, my Lady!”
Alainna took the envelope eagerly and tore it open. And then she exclaimed, “Oh!”
A small package wrapped in paper fell out.
Alainna stared at the package warily. “Is that for me?” she asked in a small voice. Then, to Archondid, she said, “Did he say he was going to give a gift in his letter?”
Archondid shook his head. “No, he didn’t say anything of the sort.” He peered at it closer, then picked it up and shook it. It made a slight rustling sound. “It’s very light, whatever it is,” he said. “Perhaps there is an explanation in the letter?”
Alainna grabbed her letter, opened it, and then frowned. “I can’t read it.”
“Let me try,” Solea suggested. But when she looked at it, she frowned as well. The letter was sloppy and written in such a fine script in the Swan’s language that it was almost unreadable. While she could pick out certain words, much of it was foreign to her. She turned to Archondid. “I think we know why he sent you to decipher it,” she said, holding up the letter.
Archondid put the letter on the floor and squinted at it. “Let me see. Yes, he wrote it in the more ancient style, and his handwriting is atrocious since he wrote it quickly. Here, I shall try to read and translate it for you:
I too would like to apologize for my poor behavior toward you during the ball. I am sorry for hurting you, for humiliating you, and for harboring anger toward you. I acted shamefully, and I am ashamed at how I acted, both towards you and towards those that you love. I hope that one day you can forgive me.
As to Sergius, I have spoken with him regarding his poor behavior towards both you and my daughter. He has promised that he will apologize the next time that you will meet, and I hope you will accept his apology and treat him with mercy. For, as the old saying goes, “Mercy begets mercy, but destruction begets destruction.” As odious as he can be, he is not the enemy. In the future, if he treats you or my daughter with any sort of disrespect, please feel free to come to me or any of my other brothers and sisters and let us know. His propensity toward rudeness is well known to them and they know how to deal with him. Also, if you can, please remind Solea that she can always come to me for any reason, especially if she feels that she is unfairly treated because of me, and I will be more than happy to help her out, if I can.
“See?” Alainna hissed to Solea. “He loves you!”
Solea glared at her.
Archondid shot Solea a strange look and continued:
As to the other matter that you wrote of, regarding the changes in the school, I beg you to try to put them out of your mind. Again, Sergius is not the enemy. You, as the Lady, need to be able to understand our language, and we have all agreed that it would be better for Madam Burl to retire. She has been given a very generous severance package that she will be able to easily live on for the rest of her life. As to the new teacher, we are still in the process of selecting someone competent. The current likeliest candidate is a bit of an unusual choice for several different reasons, and so we are still debating whether we are comfortable with that selection, given the unusual circumstances. Right now, I am personally uncomfortable with the current likeliest candidate for a variety of reasons, which is likely the reason why Sergius has been frustrated with me as of late, as you have alluded to in your letter. However, we will do our best to talk with each other and come together to make the best possible decision that we can, and then pray to Diamea that he does not abandon us now. Once we make a final decision, I sincerely hope that you will be able to learn and excel in our language from whomever we choose to serve you.
“So nothing about the new teacher,” Solea said, slumping down in disappointment. “Just the usual response.”
Archondid clicked his beak. “I told you he wouldn’t be able to say anything,” he said, though even he sounded relieved.
“And yet, the letter continues for several more pages,” Alainna said, squinting at the letter curiously. “What more could he possibly have to say?”
Archondid shrugged his wings. “Let’s find out.”
My Lady, I am afraid that I am not very good at giving gifts, as you have no doubt noticed by now, and I apologize for this. However, I would like to offer another gift, this time with an explanation that I hope you will read. It is a necklace that has some interesting magical properties that might be useful for you. It was created for a queen that I once served during the Conqueror’s reign. It was made by—
Suddenly, Archondid stopped reading out loud, his eyes widening. He looked up at the girls, and then looked down at the paper, clearly reading ahead in disbelief.
“Well?” Alainna said impatiently. “What does it say?”
Archondid didn’t look up. “Wait.” He flipped through the pages, his neck curled in an odd shape. Then, when he was done, he looked up at the girls. “May I see his gift?” he said oddly.
Alainna held up the small package.
Alainna looked at him curiously and tore open the package.
A necklace fell out. Hanging off a soft black cord, which seemed to shimmer with color if the light hit it just right, was a small raw ruby that looked like a teardrop. The ruby hadn’t been cut at all, so it was smooth, dull, and cloudy. Had a jeweler cut the stone, it probably would have sparkled with light, since it was clearly a beautiful stone. However, as dull as it was, it still seemed to have a natural beauty of its own.
“It’s beautiful,” Alainna whispered, staring at it.
Archondid stared at it with wide eyes. Then he looked up strangely at the girls. “He shouldn’t have given you this,” he said slowly. “He shouldn’t have given you this at all.”
“I can’t reject this gift,” insisted Alainna. “You saw what happened when I rejected his other gift. I’m sure he’ll tear me limb from limb if I refuse this one!”
“Finish reading the letter,” Alainna commanded.
Archondid shook his head. Then, in an odd voice, he said, “Before I do, you have to swear to me that you will not tell anyone else about this necklace. Ever.”
Solea and Alainna looked at each other suddenly. “Why?” Alainna snapped.
“You can talk about it with each other, if you are alone,” Archondid continued. “You can talk about it with me, if we are alone. You can talk about it with Uclepidies, if he is alone with you again. But you must not tell anyone else about this letter, and you must do your utmost to hide the necklace that he gave you from anyone. Do you understand? And that includes sharing it with my other brothers and sisters,” he added quickly. “I wouldn’t even share this with Eurodities. If any of them knew about this, I am sure they would try to destroy it.”
Alainna and Solea looked at each other with growing excitement. “Is it special?” Alainna asked excitedly.
Archondid hesitated. “It is magical,” he said slowly. “In the darkest way possible.”
“Now you have to read it!” Solea cried.
“Swear to me first!”
“I swear, I swear,” the girls cried, and Archondid nodded with agitation.
Again, he read:
I would like to offer another gift, this time with an explanation that I hope you will read. It is a necklace that has some interesting magical properties that might come in handy for you, my Lady. It was created for a queen that I once served during the Conqueror’s reign. The queen, at the time, was sympathetic to the Conqueror and freely chose to side with the Conqueror and ally with the Conqueror in every respect. As such, the Conqueror treated her, at the time, with a great deal of respect.
I was chosen to be the go-between with the queen and the Conqueror for several reasons. First, though I was still possessed, I was still sympathetic to the Conqueror at the time, unlike the rest of my brothers and sisters, and thus didn’t mind creating and forming alliances for the Conqueror at this particular time. The second reason is that the queen particularly trusted me, of all my brothers and sisters, and favored me above them all.
After several very embarrassing mishaps between the Conqueror and the queen concerning myself, the Conqueror realized that it would be a very useful tool for the queen to be able to tell instantaneously when I, Uclepidies, was acting as a possessed Black Swan and Voice to the Conqueror, and when I was acting as myself in private to the queen. And so, the Conqueror made this necklace using her very powerful magic. What sort of magic, I do not quite understand. The Conqueror explained it to me in detail once, when I asked, since she was quite proud of the magic behind it, but I am afraid I was distracted and didn’t pay attention to her explanation as I should have, nor did I realize at the time that this would be the last time that I would ever be able to ask her about the necklace. However, as a matter of course, I became acquainted with how the necklace works at a practical level.
This is how it works:
You put on the necklace underneath your clothes and wear it. When you are in the presence of non-possessed people, it will act as a normal necklace. But, when you are in the presence of someone who is possessed, it will change in a specific way, depending on how violent and sudden the possession is. If there is any interaction between the possessed and the possessor, the stone will hum and you will feel it vibrate. If the possession is only slight, or if it is consensual, the stone will become mildly warm and glow a dim red. If a person near you is suddenly and violently possessed so that they lose their entire will, the stone will glow bright red so as to light up a dark room and burn you to the point that you will feel physical pain.
The more violent the possession, the greater the pain will be. For example, when I possessed Theron at your party, if you had been wearing the necklace, it would have caused you to lose your breath and perhaps give a slight red mark where the stone would have touched your skin. In most cases, the pain is mild and simply uncomfortable. When the queen wore it, it rarely broke her skin, even though I was often totally possessed in her presence. However, this necklace has burnt through skin and bone before, so if you are ever in a position in which you believe that you are about to die because of someone who is violently possessed, you should try to discard the necklace immediately, if you can. Mind you, the necklace will not kill you. It is made of Conqueror magic, and it is impossible for Conquerors to kill someone directly, just as it is impossible for Black Swans to kill someone directly. However, it can cause grave injuries that are not easily healed from.
This necklace will work for any sort of possession, be it possession between a Conqueror and his victim, or a Black Swan and his possessed.
If you are interested in a demonstration between myself and Theron, I am willing to comply so that you can get a feeling as to how this necklace works so you will be able to recognize the signs better in a controlled environment.
You are the first that I have told of this necklace and you are the first to see this necklace since the time of the first Conqueror and the queen. Not even my brothers and sisters know about this necklace. Nobody but yourselves know that this necklace exists. Even the Conquerors have forgotten about this necklace, or else believe that it has been lost forever since the death of the queen. However, the Conqueror’s memory of this necklace still exists, for the stone is special to the Conqueror. If any of the Conqueror’s descendants see this necklace, they will remember and perhaps use this necklace against you. It is a cursed necklace. Because of this, I recommend that you always keep it hidden from view and never show anyone this necklace. Again, if somebody sees this necklace and recognizes it, they are probably a Conqueror. Please be careful.
However, please wear the necklace always. There may come a time in which it may come in handy soon.